Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Stylophone Gen R-8 at the NAMM Show - Wednesday

I actually wasn’t planning to attend the winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, California this year. But when Dubreq’s John Simpson needed some help demonstrating the new Stylophone Gen R-8 at the convention, I couldn’t resist volunteering to be one of the first people to get my hands on the latest member of the Stylophone instrument family.

I started my Wednesday morning with a long drive to the Denver airport from my home in the suburbs on the opposite side of town. I made it to my gate right as boarding began. I enjoyed some of the 2.5 hour flight visiting with a young woman who is a professional bass guitar player. She was scheduled to perform with a musician from Nashville late Wednesday night at the Marriott hotel on the convention center campus. I told her I would catch her performance if I could stay up late enough. (I couldn’t. I’m tired!)

I dropped off my luggage  at my hotel and headed straight for the Anaheim Convention Center where I met John and his wife, Marcella Kavanagh. While they set up their trade show booth, I gave myself a crash course in operating the Gen R-8. (I had read the owner’s manual at home.) They have two prototype units that were finished only a few days ago. Both are almost fully operational but have a few features that aren’t quite ready to go. With John’s help, I learned how to use most of the instrument’s features and we figured out how to best demonstrate some of the deeper capabilities such as CV patching and the really cool 16-step  sequencer.

And with that bit of training, we made our way to the media preview event where I demonstrated the the Gen R-8 for several music technology bloggers from the US and Europe. It was quite a lot of fun, and a real challenge to speak about an instrument I just played for the first time today. I have conducted dozens of interviews with all kinds of celebrities during my long career as a TV producer. I found it a lot more difficult to be the interviewee. (I hope I didn’t babble too much.)

John, Marcella and I finished the day with a great meal and conversation. Now it’s time to get a good night’s rest. Tomorrow the trade show will be open and, I am hoping, will be very busy at booth #10306.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A little higher and a little lower: The Treble and Bass Stylophones

The modern Stylophone S1 instruments have been made available in several different color schemes, but they all have the same features and sounds. That wasn't the case with some earlier Stylophone models in alternative color schemes. While the commonly available black-and-white Stylophone from the 1960s was the standard model, instruments with white and beige-and-white cabinets were also sold.

The white "treble" model substitutes a few electronic component values in the circuit, so that the instrument's pitch range is an octave higher. The beige-and-white "bass" model has pitch range an octave lower than the standard instrument.

If you would like to add these two rarities to your own Stylophone collection, try the UK version of eBay. It is not unusual to see treble Stylophones listed there, priced around the equivalent of  $15 to $30 USD. I've seen several treble Stylophones listed on the US version of eBay as well.

The bass model seems to be quite rare, so it may take some patience and luck to find one. I had an automatic search set up on eBay for a couple of years before I was able to buy one from a seller in France. As I recall, the purchase price was around $15 USD, but the shipping cost was around $30. When the instrument arrived, I fired it up and it worked for only about 30-seconds. I took it to a local amplifier and keyboard repair shop, along with a copy of the circuit schematic I found online. They were able to replace a few failed components on the circuit board and have it sounding almost good-as-new. The repair job cost me around $70, but should have cost more. The technician gave me a discount because he found the project amusing. So, my $15 bass Stylophone was not such a bargain after all.

I find the treble version of the Stylophone to work and sound as expected. The bass model doesn't seem to be quite in-tune in the lower few notes. I don't know if this is due to the original design, the age of the instrument, or the repair job.

The bass and treble Stylophones are certainly not essential for any musical application. A standard model can be pitched up or down with a computer DAW or an effects pedal for very similar results, but I find it fun to have these peculiar variants in my already peculiar collection of vintage Stylophones.

Monday, May 28, 2018

New box and booklet design commemorate the Stylophone's golden anniversary

Wow! It has been 50 years since dubreq launched the original Stylophone. 
Millions have been sold around the world since then. To commemorate this milestone, dubreq redesigned the box and booklet for their latest batch of Stylophone S1 instruments, available now. They were kind enough to send me a sample.

The instrument, itself, doesn't have any new features. But the box has fun, new artwork.

The usual S1 with an audio cable is inside, plus a redesigned instruction booklet.

 The booklet features a brief overview of the Stylophone's 50-year history, including photos of inventor Brian Jarvis, factory workers assembling instruments, the famous David Bowie endorsement advertisement and the familiar publicity photo for Kraftwerk's Computer World album with a mannequin pretending to be a robot pretending to be Karl Bartos playing a Stylophone. (Can mannequin's pretend?)

There's also the usual instructions, but with a colorful design to match the box artwork.

And, of course, there are melody charts for three songs to get you started.

It's a fun makeover that retains much of the nerd appeal of previous versions. The S1 with it's new packaging would make a delightful gift for someone you'd like to introduce to the Stylophone phenomenon. 

By the way, a lot of articles on the web say the Stylophone was invented in 1967. That's probably true. The new booklet says manufacturing of the Stylophone began in North London in 1968. So, that makes 2018 the golden anniversary of the Stylophone as a commercial product. Happy anniversary!